Primary Source Archives
Gale Primary Sources offers author collections that include journals and articles that provide researchers with firsthand material.
Learn more about the important authors throughout history, which includes poets, playwrights, novelists, essayists, and biographers. The terms writer and author tend to be used interchangeably, although some have argued that the two are quite different for reasons too complex to explore here. For the purposes of this brief essay, the term author applies to those who have become notable for their writing, either because they write professionally or because they produced a notable work.
One of the earliest surviving works of literature is the Mesopotamian work known as the Epic of Gilgamesh (written c. 2150–1400 BCE). While authors produced major works in the ensuing centuries, it wasn’t until the invention of the printing press in the 15th century CE, accompanied by increasing rates of literacy, that there was a significant increase in literary output.
Some of the earliest authors to make a living from their writing were the Elizabethan playwrights, the most famous of which was William Shakespeare (1564–1616). While playwrights could earn a living through ticket sales, authors of other types of literary works couldn’t profit from their writing because written works were considered to be in the public domain and so were freely copied without regard to compensating the original author. The creation of copyright laws in the late 17th and early 18th centuries allowed for authors to make money from their writing.
Novelists became prominent in the 19th century, as the Industrial Revolution produced a growing middle class that had the literacy and leisure time to read for pleasure. At the same time, publishing houses emerged to market and distribute authors’ works. Throughout the 20th century, partnership with publishers was the primary way authors got their books into the hands of readers. With the advent of self-publishing made possible by personal computers and internet distribution channels such as Amazon, the number of authors exploded in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Publishers Weekly reported that between 1990 and 2005, there was a 39 percent increase in the number of authors.
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